Theresa May must explain the “disgraceful” fivefold rise in EU citizens being held in immigration detention centres since the Conservatives came to power, MPs have said.
Between 2009 and 2015, the number of EU nationals detained under immigration powers leapt from 768 to 3,699 – in many cases for months at a time, where no crime had been committed.
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent the UK was alone in western Europe in detaining people indefinitely for immigration purposes.
“[In her Brexit speech] Theresa May talked about Europe being our closest friends and allies – if this is how our Government treats our friends then we should be very worried,” he said.
“Detention for administrative purposes, when no crime has been committed, fundamentally goes against the democratic foundations of our society,” he said.
In 2009, 2.7 per cent of all immigration detainees were EU nationals, while in 2015, this had risen to 11.4 per cent. The detention of EU citizens has continued to shoot up, with 1,227 detained in the third quarter of 2016 – 17 per cent of the total number recorded in that period.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called on Ms May to explain why so many people who are allowed to be in the UK under their EU treaty rights were being held.
“Immigration detention is only supposed to be used in the most serious immigration enforcement cases, not as a casual alternative to the normal processes of the criminal justice system,” she said. “The Government needs to explain urgently why on earth there has been such a big increase in detention of EU citizens in just a few years.”
The Prime Minister has been accused of deliberately trying to “spread anxiety” among people from EU countries living in the UK, in an effort to deter others from moving to Britain.
Since 2010, when Ms May became Home Secretary, the number of EU nationals expelled from Britain has risen by 256 per cent. “Removing some people is also telling other people that their status is insecure. It functions to spread anxiety,” immigration lawyer Adrian Berry told The Independent.
Scottish National Party MP Paul Monaghan called the rise “disgraceful” and said the use of immigration powers to detain people indefinitely was “completely inappropriate”.
“If somebody has committed a crime, they should be dealt with by the criminal justice system in the country that they allegedly committed the crime in,” Mr Monaghan said. “It’s completely inappropriate for the immigration process to be used as some kind of disposal for the criminal justice sector.”
A Home Office spokesperson said new regulations had recently been introduced “enabling us to deport EU nationals who repeatedly commit so-called minor offences – crimes which nonetheless cause deep pain to the victims and affect communities”.
“Our deportation action is taken in accordance with UK and EU laws,” they added, stating that EU citizens may remain in the UK for three months “provided they do not become a burden on the social assistance system of the UK or abuse their rights”.
But John Hopgood, policy and research manager of the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, said he had worked with an increasing number of EU nationals being detained and facing removal from the UK over “pretty much nothing”.
People have been detained for reasons such as losing their ID card or having a birthday party in a park, he said, adding: “From what we’ve seen, we’re not treating EU nationals fairly at the moment, let alone what’s going to happen after we leave the EU.”
Labour MP Diane Abbott, who spoke at BID’s annual meeting on Tuesday evening, said it was clear the rise was a product of Government policy, as “dramatic changes like this don’t happen willy-nilly”.
“The policy was spearheaded under the current Prime Minister, who as we know is much more interested in removing foreigners than she is in adopting policies which support our prosperity,” she said.
“Whether officially or unofficially it is clear that there is a new, harsher regime in the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants. In relation to one aspect of the regime – the removals of detainees, the regime is even harsher for EU nationals – a startling development.”
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said the figures were “deeply concerning” and Ms May’s actions did not match her claims that EU nationals living here were welcome.
“I am sure that this revelation will add to the deep sense of unease among EU nationals – who still have not been guaranteed a right to remain in the UK,” she said.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies